There hasn’t been a lot of things to look forward to this season for the Chicago Bulls, but, there has been one thing looming ever since the Bulls began on opening day: the return of Zach LaVine.
As we all know, LaVine was one of the three players Chicago received in the Jimmy Butler trade, the most experienced and the one which Bulls fans knew the most about. Last year with the Timberwolves, LaVine averaged 18.9 points per game with a 57.6 true shooting (TS) percentage and was an good three-point shooter, hitting 38.7% from deep. While he only did play half of that season, LaVine showed in those 47 games he was very capable scoring the ball. He’s made leaps offensively in every season he has played, which is a good sign for any young player.
With his return inching closer and closer every day, let’s take a look at what LaVine can do and the new dimension he can add to the Bulls offense.
The first thing which stands out by LaVine is ability to shoot the ball from three. I noted earlier his percentages from last year, and his career average is 37.8%. What’s impressive is his percentage has remained the same from his second to third year despite him taking around 3 more attempts per game. He’s a legitamite threat from deep and will force defenses to pay a lot of attention to him when he’s out there.
When it comes to shooting threes, LaVine is especially good in coming off screens and creating space for himself to get up a shot. Last year, he shot 41.8% from three-point land in catch and shoot opportunities (via NBA.com). He also led the Timberwolves in three-point attempts involving those situations. This is something Fred Hoiberg should try and implement in the offense when LaVine comes back.
(2:38-2:45) The play begins with LaVine running into the paint from the three-point line while being chased by Magic guard Evan Fournier. Once LaVine gets to the restricted area he looks as if he’s going to go to the other side of the court but instead uses the body of Andrew Wiggins as a screen, wrapping around him and heading back to the right side. Fournier must have assumed this as well and was caught off guard when LaVine used the Wiggins screen instead of Gorgui Dieng, who as near the other side. With his man a sizable distance away from him, LaVine has a massive advantage. An extra screen from Karl-Anthony Towns doesn’t help Fournier as it’s a simple catch and shoot triple for LaVine.
(2:56- 3:02) Again, Minnesota is able to free up LaVine for a three-pointer by using screens. LaVine starts at the top of the three-point line and is again guarded by Fournier. It’s a simple play drawn up for LaVine as he gets a pick from Towns on his right hand side. The pick provides a barrier for Fournier and gives LaVine an easy catch from Tyus Jones. Fournier is late getting past the pick, LaVine is able to rise and knock down another three.
LaVine’s threat of being a good three-point shooter can really help Chicago’s offense. It will be spread the floor even more and will be a nice compliment to Kris Dunn, as defenders will be less willing to help on drives or post ups because of the threat of a kick out pass for an open three. If nothing else, LaVine could be a lights out shooter for Chicago.
Another element of the offense which LaVine can add to is the pick and roll game. Last season, LaVine averaged 0.83 points per possession in plays in which he was the ball handler. His 4 PNR possessions per game was third on the T-Wolves, lower only to Ricky Rubio and Andrew Wiggins. While the number is not anything spectacular, it speaks about LaVine still being a threat in attacking mismatches off the PNR. He can make the basic play when needed to be and sometimes it’s all that’s necessary in certain situations. We have seen Chicago’s guards not make the right play coming off the PNR and it can be costly.
One pick and roll combination worth looking forward to will be one between LaVine and Lauri Markkanen. It will be interesting to see how two of Chicago’s best shooters and offensive weapons are able to break down defenses. Obviously it will take some time for them to develop chemistry but this could be another way Hoiberg can use LaVine and Markkanen.
We also can’t forget his high-flying ability and how dangerous LaVine can be in transition. Provided that his knee repair won’t diminish that too much, we could be in store for some highlight dunks when the Bulls run in the open court.
Another notable thing to watch will be the priority of LaVine’s shots in the offense. LaVine will obviously be eased back to being on the court, and take some time for him to gel with teammates. Yet as he gets back to full health, will he be the first option?
If so, it will be a step up in terms of offensive responsibility. During his time in Minnesota, it was always Wiggins and Towns who were the go-to guys. Now potentially defenses are going to be zeroing on LaVine and there will be a lot of nights where he is guarded by the opposing teams best wing defender. LaVine’s progression into a more vital role will be something to monitor.
Although LaVine won’t play much against Detroit, it’ll be a step in getting a more clear view of what Chicago’s future will look like. If LaVine can come back healthy, and not only return to form but make strides in his game, it would be huge for the franchise’s plans moving forward. Which includes LaVine’s pending restricted free agency this summer.